Castle Roland

Geek Squad

by Kyle Aarons

In Progress

Chapter 17

Published: 5 Jan 15

Geek Squad

Copyright © 2012 - 2015 by Kyle Aarons and the Revolutions Universe Partnership
All Rights Reserved

Geek Squad LogoJustin and Keith were among the last to ride down the elevator, having stayed in the upper bunker until communications could be established through the lower bunker. They waited until Nick Brandt directed them to where they and their friends needed to be so they could help open the doors leading out of the formerly mothballed bunker.

Even as the elevator gave a particularly nasty lurch, Justin looked over to Keith, "If I have to climb down over three hundred feet on a ladder after everyone else made it down on this, I'm going to demand Mr. Triumph gives me a pay raise."

Even as Keith burst out in laughter, the firefighter who had taken every trip glanced over to the two boys, "Are you really employees of EEL?"

"I am." Keith grinned from ear to ear, "Justin just needs his parents to sign off, but with the schooling we are being offered at EEL expense, I am sure they'll say yes."

"Only if my dad lives…"

Seeing almost everyone else on the elevator turn to look at him, Justin wiped away a few forming tears, "Ashwood bombed my dad's truck. He is badly hurt, but I still don't know how bad." Justin's hands turned into tight fists, "But no matter how he is doing I am going to do something worse to Ashwood…"

One of the state senators moved over to Justin and put his arm around the boy's shoulders. "Well, you are off to a great start. You just saved the lives of the entire State of Texas' government, and while we may not be legally able to break away, we are going to war with Ashwood. Also thanks to you and your friends getting the word out and helping with the terrorism in Kansas City, Boulder, Oklahoma City, and warning Offutt Air Base of an attack against them that they were able to thwart, we have Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Colorado joining us."

Keith looked over, "With bridges being dropped by Ashwood forces all along the Missouri-Mississippi river from south to north, I just got confirmation of North and South Dakota also jumping on to side with Texas and President Bryce. This means we have a straight line right down the center of the country of the U.S., aligned with us…"

Keith paused and grinned as his laptop updated with new messages since it had temporarily been disconnected, so they could move the last of the command and control assets into the lower bunker. As he re-established communications with the lower bunker and the outside world and the elevator made a particularly nasty screeching sound, other updates appeared on the screen. As a whole list of new messages came over the laptop he had borrowed and all but taken control over, he started announcing new developments. "It's official, you can add Idaho and Montana in with us. Their governors have just placed their National Guards under the leadership of Texas!" Keith's demeanor suddenly changed as he cringed, "But Montana is getting some problems from reserve units loyal to Ashwood and is asking for help in the Bozeman area… they are having huge problems with freed prisoners and some kind of outside force too. A large portion of Bozeman is all but in Ashwood's control."

He listened to the updates as the elevator bitched and groaned with each meter it descended, "Flagstaff is also under Ashwood control and Albuquerque is reporting street to street fighting so heavy the police have pulled back to staging areas and is letting large sections go. Phoenix reports damage to its water pumping facilities. Over half the city is without water pressure and there are fires from what appears to be Mexican insurgents. Arizona sounds like it is in big trouble and the governor has yet to make contact. Everything I am getting out of Arizona at this point is local leadership, and none of it sounds good.

"Idaho sounds like it is in great shape, as is Wyoming. Even though Wyoming hasn't official joined with us yet they are backing up Idaho in sending some forces into Montana.

"Wyoming seems to be like super organized. None of the prisoners made it to cities and the unknown fighters were crushed in Cheyenne. There is still pockets of fighting, but the resistance is localized and badly fractured. I guess Wyoming had to have had a plan in place or knew something was coming. They even took control of two oil refineries and the biggest oil fields before Ashwood loyal forces could move on them, then wiped out those units as they tried to take them. The governor there says their National Guard has secured all federal government facilities statewide without much fighting and Wyoming loyal Reserve units have all but fully defected and joined in with the Wyoming Guard.

"I'm pretty sure it is all true, too, because Fort Collins Colorado's mayor say they are temporarily joining Wyoming since a contingent of Wyoming National Guard moved down into Colorado and totally crushed a reserve unit trying to take Fort Collins for Ashwood."

The lieutenant governor looked over to Keith, "I wish the rest of us had our shit as together as Wyoming seems to. So far, it sure sounds like they are with us, even if they are not joining in a unified command. My real concern, though, is still the nukes. Is there any word on the ballistic missile silos in Montana and Wyoming?"

Keith shook his head, "Ever since you said something I have been monitoring, so far nothing. However, there is some good news closer to here. According to an intercept from a Coast Guard cutter that defected to join Texas, the ship that shot missiles at us is sinking, having been fired on by other US Navy ships. It sounds like there is now several surface-to-surface battles going on in the Gulf of Mexico. This means at least some of the US Navy is on our side.

"Also another Coast Guard cutter helped one of the ships that sunk the ship that fired the sarin at us. Together they captured a couple of fleet supply ships, so ships becoming loyal to us will have some US Navy supplies."

Keith continued to mark hot spots as reports came through to him even as he continued talking, "The real question to the west of us is Oregon. I've got nothing at all, either good or bad about them. I mean, we know Washington State is fighting incursions from the unknown forces and former prisoners, and California is a massive mess after the earthquake there. California is effectively out of action. The only things I'm getting from California is pleas for help over what is remaining of the FRN and independent HAM stations. Local radio and TV stations are either down, are reporting what is around them, or have gone to pre-recorded emergency messages telling people who are watching and listening to wait until further instructions are able to been given. The most reliable reports I have found are large areas of San Francisco is in flames and aftershocks have rocked major cities up and down the coast.

"Combine all of the destruction with the released prisoners, unknown fighters and a Mexican army force pushing into San Diego from the Yuma Arizona area there is no way to get a clear picture out there. At least the Marines in Camp Pendleton aren't siding with Ashwood: they have the Mexican forces stopped cold as of the last update. We don't know if they have officially jumped in on the side of California, but they have sure seemed to be mad about the Mexicans coming over the border.

"Also the Baja Peninsula hasn't made any official announcements, but the Mexican army don't seem interested in messing with Baja, at least according to Marine reports.

"Joey has pretty much taken on trying to focus on California so we have some kind of clue what the state really looks like. He lived there and knows it better than the rest of us. We also have not yet heard a word out of the governor's office from California, so we don't even know if they are organized enough to put up any kind of a fight."

"What a mess…" Wade stated even as he took a knee. "Over two hundred years and some moron in Washington is tearing us apart from the inside out. Even if we piece it all back together, the U.S. as we know it will never be the same."

Justin looked over at the old curator, "We made it through one civil war…"

The lieutenant governor let out a long breath, "I'd have to say you are both right and both wrong. The first civil war changed the very core of this nation. As long as nukes are kept out of this, we have a chance of survival as a unified entity, but the trust, at least what was left of it, in the federal government is gone. Even if we survive as a unified nation, there will have to be massive changes to the way government works before there is enough trust for the union to continue.

"The other thing we will have to do is rebuild trust in allies, while fending off potential enemies who will see us as weakened over this whole thing. The world we were born into, not just the nation, is going to be a very different place after this is over."

Fredric sat in his office fuming. The line of communication Keith had established with EEL was still being tweaked but he had enough information to be ready to rip Ashwood to shreds with his bare hands, which said quite a bit since Fredric had gotten into exactly three fist fights in his entire life and lost all three. He was so angry about so many different things he wasn't even sure what he was mainly pissed off about anymore. There was his perfectly planned science contest. It was in ruins. Hearing Ricky most likely had a broken leg caused his blood to boil even further. They were his kids, his younger brothers in geekdom. Ashwood had tried to kill them multiple times now and had hurt many. This needed to be paid back three-fold.

There were the employees of EEL who didn't get to EEL Corporate Headquarters soon enough and were missing. Hundreds of fantastic men and women, many probably dead from the sarin attack. This was just as bad, these were people who trusted Fredric, many of whom were now most likely dead. Even as Fredric fumed, he put another three-fold retribution for these souls.

There were also those on the fringe, those who were not directly known to Fredric, but were still part of his life. Justin's father and those who stopped the man's semi who were EEL employees Fredric had never met. At least three dead and others injured, all of them with families. EEL would have to find a way to care for the dependents of those men. To do anything less would simply be unacceptable. However, a measure of justice still needed to be found. The pilot of the fighter plane needed to be found and eliminated. He had even bombed those who had nothing to do with it when he dropped ordnance on a bridge just to cover up for Ashwood's weapons shipments to corrections facilities just prior to the vote.

Then there were the dead within Austin, thousands upon thousands, some the family members of EEL employees who desperately wanted to find out if loved ones were alive or dead. Already he had ordered his best scientists to find a way to rig up a few EEL vehicles to go into Austin and look for the loved ones of employees. Hazmat suits were also being converted so some of his security team could search outside the chem-hazard secure vehicle cockpits of the still being worked on large trucks. Medical teams were also being brought in. Still many would be dead, wives, husbands and kids he had met at company functions gasping for their last breaths as the chemical shut down their ability to survive in horrible and excruciating ways. Another four-fold needed to be returned on Ashwood for this, at least another four-fold... No make it five-fold, Fredric told himself.

Finally there were the countless people he didn't know across a huge section of the U.S. The people in Kansas City doing their jobs and paying taxes suddenly blown up for no good reason Fredric could yet find. Then there were the folks in Boulder, going about their daily business, thousands of young men and women attending college classes getting ready for a future, a future cut off by a cowardly Ashwood flunky using yet a different type of chemical agent. Those who lived would be blind and or would have horrible breathing problems the rest of their lives and would also be disfigured by the blistering of their skin.

The body count of those was only the tip of the iceberg, for there was the "earthquake" in San Francisco. His Geologists confirmed what Fredric suspected the second he saw the first seismographic readings; the waves from the initial shock were not naturally generated. They were the waves one would see in a massive explosion, only there were multiples and they were too big to be anything but nuclear. Unfortunately, he would never be able to find proof. The readings from over the faults were now under tons of rubble and in flames. The government reading from the National Geological Survey were in Boulder, and Fredric was firmly willing to bet his ownership of EEL itself as to the blister agent attack being a cover to get to those records and control the information just prior to the detonations that caused the actual earthquake. The quake itself and the subsequent readings showed an earthquake, no question, but the fuse had not been natural. Sure there were other seismographic equipment including EEL's, but the official readings were most certainly gone and probably already destroyed.

Millions were dead, dying, or worse yet trapped under rubble over a huge section of California thanks to what had to have been an Ashwood planned attack. Fredric couldn't come up with a number for the payback needed to right those wrongs but he would sure as hell try to come up with one. Ashwood, his supporters, his money, his twisted family, his overseas political contacts... the list went on and on, but Fredric decided he would not be satisfied until all of them had paid some kind of price for this day.

To this end, Fredric ordered every weapon system EEL was contracted by the government to produce into being activated. Already the highly top secret IR radar was blanketing the EEL corporate facilities and surrounding area. Prototype weapon systems for anti-armor, anti-aircraft, and a brand new microwave wide-angle anti-infantry system was being brought on line. At the same time production facilities were ordered to start cranking out more of all those systems plus a few special side projects Fredric had come up with in hopes of convincing the government to go in new and 'interesting' directions. A battalion of the Texas National guard had been assigned directly to EEL so he had the manpower and expertise of combat personnel to man all the military equipment, and a pair of F-15 Strike Eagle fighters were on a Combat Air Patrol over EEL's massive complex.

While EEL's primary facility was safe and becoming a fist to smash Ashwood's nose as flat as Fredric could figure out a way to do so, other EEL interests were not as near as protected. The EEL Solar Research Station just outside of Albuquerque was one such place. Fighting had been reported less than two miles from the fences and reports from his South Valley facility suggested large areas of the city was in flames. As Fredric struggled to figure out what to do about this emergency situation, the answer came from a rather unlikely source. A chance meeting of a gate attendant and Glenn was rapidly turning into something far larger than anyone could imagine or even fathom.

Nick Brandt was, as luck had it, a major leader in a combination political and paramilitary group for gun ownership rights. Even As Nick and his small group worked to get to the 'back door' of the bunker the entire State of Texas Government was in, Nick worked hard to assure Zenon and the other chaperones of his desire to oppose President Ashwood. He went on to pledge not only his commitment to protect the boys, but also in being able to round up well armed and decently trained people to protect the Albuquerque facility.

As much as he hated to do it at first, Fredric relented and offered a contract to the paramilitary group, Citizens Against Gun Expropriating (CAGE), to do a call up of their local members in Albuquerque to provide a decent sized standing force. In exchange, not only was EEL putting these people on the payroll, they also allowed the members to bring their families into the EEL facility for protection. The offer was too good for the vast majority of CAGE members to pass up on. Many of their members were ex-military, and had been pushed out of the military over the prior few years and had been put on watch lists. Many had even found security clearances revoked so jobs in fields they knew had become unavailable. Most were only too happy to have a base of operations from which to take the fight against Ashwood's radical policies and unlawful power grab.

Within hours the first shots between CAGE and an armed group of ex-cons resulted in a virtual destruction of the unorganized attacking group of rabble. This, in turn, prompted Levi and Zenon to recommend hiring other CAGE groups close to other EEL facilities. Fredric, doing something totally out of character, decided to take it one step further. He determined one of the best ways to gain a larger armed force for EEL was to offer all members of CAGE contracts as a fledgling EEL defense force. Before the sun set, hasty contracts had been worked out over the ultra secure Microwave communication system between EEL facilities, then by radio, phone, and even courier; including in a few places behind Ashwood controlled lines. Before Ashwood assets realized what was happening because of the breakdown in satellite communications, CAGE members streamed into EEL owned and operated properties in twenty-two different states. Before the first stars could be seen for those alive on the West Coast a new military force was given a name. The EEL Defense Force (EDF) was born and as word spread to other CAGE groups, its numbers and strength continued to grow.

President Ashwood looked across his command room with pure hatred burning in his chest. The reports out of Austin and the subsequent defections of states to join the Texas government pushed him into seeing a shade of red no human should ever be allowed to see.

The situation turned from bad to worse as the mass attack against Offutt Air Force Base SAC Underground Command Complex just outside of Omaha was not just turned back, but crushed. Of the sixty attacking planes, forty-eight were lost and five others damaged too badly to ever be combat effective again. Making matters worse, the support aircraft had been hit equally as hard. Twenty-two of the thirty support aircraft had been lost in the failed effort. Battle damage reports were hard to come by, but only one runway had been damaged and the massive underground hadn't even been scratched.

Since there was no satellite coverage, the exact state of damage to Offutt was unknown, but what was known was some of the aircrews who had been part of the attack had not been shot down. Instead, they had defected. The numbers of defecting aircrews was impossible to determine, but at least two refuelers simply continued to fly west and disappeared leaving the attack aircraft with no fuel just minutes before the scheduled assault. Also, radio chatter picked up by the single surviving AWACS indicated at least one flight of F-22s turned on the pair of B-1 bombers, which carried the ordinance packages designed to take out the underground complex before the F-22's disappeared into the clouds and headed west.

While the first shots of the war were not going his direction in some areas, there was plenty of good news. The problem was he didn't want to hear what was going well, only wanting to blame others for what wasn't. The eastern half of the country was effectively separated from the western side by dropping all the bridges along the Mississippi/Missouri River basins. The fully loyal Marine Expeditionary Force had pushed into New Orleans and quickly advanced out from there, taking defending forces totally off guard. This gave him control of the oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico. The release and arming of inmates overwhelmed most law enforcement, leaving cities open and easy to control. The foreign fighters he had secretly brought in took full advantage in many areas and took control of the cities from the inmates and beleaguered local law enforcement. Several cities in the West had fallen as well, forcing Bryce to deal with mass insurgency behind his lines. This had to be done while figuring out how to pacify possible resistance in the Central US on the west side of the Mississippi River, close to the rapidly developing front lines.

The fact Bryce had his hands full with multiple disasters in the West and several cities under foreign domination gave Ashwood uncontested control over half the country and a huge amount of resources under his supremacy. Even better, the massive blackouts and criminal elements still on the loose prevented citizens from banding together to oppose his actions. The fact the eastern side of the US had been far more willing to hand over firearms meant those opposed to him had little to nothing to fight back with. This meant criminals roamed with near impunity, except where the foreign fighters had moved in to take them out or drive them into hiding. This, in turn, left many seeing the unknown forces as saviors. Since they were under Ashwood's control, many citizens were willingly turning themselves over to stand with Ashwood without realizing they were all but jumping into bed with the person who had caused all the havoc.

Reports from cities like Atlanta, Cleveland, New York, Buffalo, Boston, and Birmingham indicated the cities were fully behind Ashwood and even better were embracing the predominantly South American fighters, even though many were committing wartime atrocities on a large scale. Of course, most of these were being blamed on the armed prisoners or simply buried since power outages prevented information from spreading. Those who objected tended to be added to the growing body count.

Still Ashwood's focus was on the face of the Texas governor as he made his announcement of separation from the US. A later report, again from the governor, stated Texas had not actually dropped out of the US, but instead was forming a fully Bryce supporting union of states to oust Ashwood and 'bring him to justice'. Even as he stared at the still of Governor Hendrickson on the platform flanked by four kids, one of which was none other than Scott Race, his blood pressure continued to go up. The little bastard was behind this somehow! The little shit-head's twin must have managed to get some of the stolen information about Starshine to Scott and now the weaker twin was showing exactly what Holly had warned him about: the boy was not a team player even though he had played the part of one with the UAE Ambassador and others on several occasions.

Come hell or high water Scott Race would pay for this betrayal! His mind turned even darker. The governor should have been on the Texas Capitol building's floor twitching and frothing at the mouth, blood coming out of every orifice as his nerves simply shut down, not defiantly eyeing the camera telling the world he and the State of Texas was going to war against the Ruler of the United States! There was only one explanation Ashwood could think of, Scott must have gotten enough information to warn the governor about the sarin! Rage finally bubbled to the surface as President Ashwood picked up his chair and started beating his monitor sending pieces of both all over the room and causing others to move further away or even leave the room in terror.

After nearly a minute he glared at the remnants of his station and stared angrily at this new cyber security commander, "Logan! Those four little bastards with Hendrickson, one is Scott Race, I know him and am going to... I don't know yet, but he will suffer in ways no human has suffered since the days of the inquisition. The other three, who the fuck are they?"

The teen looked up clearly ready for the question but startled by the use of his name, "They are science contest winners by a nationwide competition put on by EEL. Um, and my name is Trevor Longway..."

Ashwood's temper dropped considerably as he eyed the boy with a smirk, "Kid you're good, but hiding behind the name of a missing rich boy from Des Moines Iowa, so you can tap into his trust fund; is only a good cover if you aren't talking to the most powerful man in the world."

Ashwood pulled up something on his phone and started reading, "Trevor William Longway, only surviving member of the Longway family after the others were killed when their gulfstream went down on approach to Lexington Kentucky in 2005. Seven of the eight Longway bodies were recovered from the crash, but no one knew where eleven-year-old Trevor was. There was a media frenzy for about a week, when suddenly Trevor was found at a summer camp in California put in under the name Logan as a way to prevent unwanted attention of a boy who just wanted to be one of the kids."

President Ashwood snorted. "The family lawyer stepped up with documents and a will showing the last wishes of Mr. Longway was to send his children to the ultra-expensive Saint Gregory's School in Clarens, Switzerland should something terrible happen. The long trusted Neil Winslow, attorney at law, got a hefty million per year salary for running the trust fund and to make sure Trevor was well taken care of until Trevor graduated college, then if need be to continue to run the trust until Trevor reached age twenty-five." Ashwood openly chuckled, "And this, Logan, is where you messed up. For the attorney needed to pay a rather large sum, ten million, for you to be accepted because Trevor was far from a stellar student and there was no way Saint Gregory's would take such a child in without added incentives.

"However, upon arrival, Trevor didn't get just straight A's, instead he was quickly bumped up in nearly every class he went to." This time Ashwood openly laughed, "Quite simply you were too smart and you showed it right from the start. However, the ten million "donation" to get Trevor in was enough for mouths to remain tightly shut. You graduated with 4.0 GPA at age fourteen and went on to get three degrees in computer related fields by age seventeen before returning here to the States, where upon graduation, the trust fund became fully available to you, but again, you were clever. You put the good Mr. Winslow over the funds until Trevor reaches the age of twenty-five. You only get a measly $375,000 per year until Trevor turns twenty-five, then you get access to the rest of the slightly under $800,000,000 of amassed wealth. Much of which has been diverted into other forms of wealth over the past forty-eight hours. Well, played, I might add, since the short-term economy of the US is going to tank. This will certainly leave you with far more than eight hundred million in assets. However I am certain Mr. Winslow will be getting a hefty chunk for covering for you Logan, correct?"

The young man eyed Ashwood with clenched fists and anger blazing in his eyes, but the return look told Logan, Ashwood was quite simply amused, not angry, not even feeling betrayed, instead he looked more pleased than anything. Because of this, and the fact there were multiple armed guards eyeing him suspiciously, the young man grumbled, "It was the only way to get myself in and they didn't put the money on the books of the school so I couldn't erase the transaction."

Ashwood busted up laughing, "You're a smart little shit, I'll give you that!" Still chuckling, Ashwood glanced down at his phone, "Logan, I like you. You got some big ass brass balls and are certainly the best computer guy I have ever met. But just so you know not to fuck with me, let me give a bit more my friends were able to find out, once they saw the mistake you made.

"You, Logan, were a star right out of your mother's cunt. You picked up three languages before reaching age four and were reading and writing at a fifth grade level or better in all three before you were five. Lunar-Gen took an interest in you so they arranged for your father to be transferred to Vandenberg as a liaison. As part of getting a paycheck from Lunar-Gen and the Air Force, he was expected to bring you to Lunar-Gen for some testing and schooling. Your knack was computers so you were taught computers and injected with some drug combinations designed to help developing minds and bodies. My contacts were still trying to get more information when the satellites went down. However, I think we can safely assume the combination of raw intelligence and pharmaceuticals worked better than Lunar-Gen expected. For you and a few others escaped Lunar-Gen close to the end of a two month long testing cycle and only three days before the Longway plane crash. While records don't really exist, my people were able to put some pieces together; it seems some of you caused the bio-release defense system to activate, killing most inside the facility when the air was all sucked out of the deeper containment labs and heated to some absurd degree to kill off any airborne contamination. At the same time the computers went into an endless overwrite loop, destroying the data on you and any others Lunar-Gen was toying with along with formulas they were testing.

"Lunar-Gen, retaliated, however. By the time you got home your father had been deployed overseas and was then listed as KIA. Your mother had been turned into a drug addict by the corp and you knew this or simply knew she was a dope fiend. One way or the other, you didn't stick around. You vanished. Ten days later Trevor Longway shows up at a summer camp. Lunar-Gen washed their hands of all the escapees since they had very little information left on them and they rebuilt their facilities back on Vandenberg and had to start over from almost scratch."

Ashwood eyed the young man, "Logan you are actually twenty-one, but have passed yourself off as younger so you could become Trevor. Hell you don't even look as old as Trevor is or was, so you're either a late bloomer or the drugs Lunar-Gen gave you did more than just make you one of the smartest bastards on the planet. But what the hell, you want to be Trevor, be my fucking guest. Just know I have some friends who are almost as smart as you are and have my back. Now, what else do you have on these damned science contest winners?"

It was clear Logan was not happy as he glanced down at what he had in front of him, "The name's Trevor, Mr. President. I worked my ass off to put all the pieces together and that cash is mine!"

Ashwood nodded, snickered, and glanced around the room, "Everyone hear that? This is Trevor and if you don't like it you can put a gun to your mouths now and pull the damned triggers because it will be a hell of a lot less painful than what Trevor here will do to you if you try to let his little secret out of the bag!" He then turned back to the young man, "So, Trev, what else do you have other than one of them being the other accursed twin of Holly Race's boy, Grant? If I had known the other twin was going to be such a pain in my ass I would have had them both vanish! I'm sure it would have done a huge favor to Holly and my cunt of a wife would have sure loved it as well!"

Hearing anger enter back into Ashwood's voice and wanting to take the attention back off him, 'Trevor' spoke up trying to hide the fact he was a bit shaken on having been found out. "The brats arrived in Austin just a few days ago and were supposed to get an award from Hendrickson at a luncheon. Camera feeds I pulled up show all eight of the little munchkins defending Hendrickson from an assassination attempt just before he made his speech, too. The quality is poor cause the cameras suck, but it is them."

"Son of a bitch!" Ashwood roared, "You… you telling me those little pricks are the reason that jackass is not only still alive, but managed to take out top operatives put in by the Arm.... by the armed forces I brought in from overseas?"

'Trevor' made a little snort, "I don't know who told you those losers were going to be good to take out the Gov, but they fell like cardboard cutouts to those kids. Hell, the four standing around the Gov all took out at least one, and the well-built kid with the military-like haircut and holding the rifle like he was born with one, took out at least three. His name is Craig Bickford, a Junior Marine from Arizona. There is a ninth munchkin who was with them, but I have not gotten a handle on him yet. I think I have seen him before, but I can't place it, so I am trying other searches. Facial recognition is jacked because our link with Langley is out. I am making getting that back a priority now, since we need access to the database of citizens compiled by the NSA. Like it or not, we absolutely need full access to the database you ordered set up so we can quickly check on problems like the said kids in Texas."

Ashwood clenched his fists and shook from head to toe with fury, "Trevor, find me everything you can on those little bastards and tell me where in the fuck their families are. They will regret ever screwing with me. If you find one with a girl you like, we'll make it a priority so you can have a plaything to sleep with. Maybe we can have the cunt pop out a boy we can name Logan!"

Down in the lower bunker, there was so much to do and so many things to check out, the kids didn't know where to start. Once the second set of blast doors opened to reveal a massive motor pool area with dozens of heavy military vehicles, the nine boys suddenly forgot about everything else. Governor Hendrickson glanced over to Ranger Taggert with a bemused grin as the kids scattered to look at things that interested them. It was as if they had suddenly been dropped off in a candy story with a pair of hundred dollar bills and told to go wild. "At least there is some boy left in each of them!"

Taggert watched as Glenn and Craig moved over to some kind of armored vehicle with wide eyes. "Yeah, but in this case the kids are playing with military hardware!"

The lieutenant governor glanced over, "I don't know what scares me more, the fact they are overjoyed to be playing with real tanks and crap, or the fact they seem to know what to do with them." He pointed over to Keith who was literally jumping up and down over the fact there was a mothballed military command vehicle of some kind complete with all the electronics.

Keith's voice could be heard clear across the massive underground shouting about all the radio equipment and electronics he now had. Taggert couldn't help but chuckle, "I'm thinking an eleven or twelve-year-old has every intention of claiming a multi-million dollar military vehicle as his."

The governor shrugged but shot Taggert a big smile, "Without him, we'd all be dead. He can have it. Besides, let's be totally honest, who else down here has a clue on what to do with it?"

Even as the men talked, Justin moved up to a vehicle very similar to the one Keith was jumping up and down about and ran his hand down the side. While the vehicle frame looked basically identical there were obvious differences including the outside armament. He then jumped up and looked over the interior, "Steven!"

Steven turned from the M2 Bradley he was eyeing and moved toward Justin, "What's up?"

"This one is an NBC secured rig!"

Steven lost total interest in the Bradley as he dashed across to the Stryker Justin was climbing up into. He eyed the gaskets on the doors of the cab and looked back toward the governor with wide eyes, "Sir, if this checks out we can go out into the sarin and still be safe!"

This caught Governor Hendrickson's interest so he made his way over to the two boys. "So this is air tight or something so chemicals can't get in?"

Justin glanced down from the cab where he was studying the layout, "Even better, sir. This is an NBC rig."

Next to the governor, Taggert spoke up in way of an explanation, "NBC; Nuclear, Chemical and Biological. In simple terms this was designed to operate on a battlefield after it had been nuked, chemical attacked, or sprayed with a biological agent. It probably has sensors to detect the poison and can find areas that are safe and will be able to tell those inside what areas are still dangerous. I heard about this kind of thing, but know exactly squat about it other than they exist."

Steven nodded, "If it checks out, we can take it out and use it to mark safe and hazardous areas. We can even check bodies of water for toxins, since sarin is water-soluble." He glanced down the row. "Looks like we have four of them, so even if there is a problem with all of them, there will be enough parts to get one up and running. With any luck at all, one or two are good. Someone was careful with the seals and it looks like factory new, so there is a real good chance we can put some gas and oil in them, lower the jacks keeping them off the ground so the tires didn't warp and simply drive them up the tunnel and out of here."

Joey moved up, "We have a pair of recon and a pair of medical Strykers as well, so if some of the adults in here are ex-military we could take up a convoy to help those above us once the doors open. There is enough supplies to come back here over and over so we restock and head back out."

The governor shook his head, "Sorry Joey, but movement in and out of the escape tunnel will eventually attract attention. You have a great idea, but if we are going to do something along those lines we will need to load up some of these trucks and take everything out all at once. The trucks would then need to get well away from the escape tunnel and set up a safe place outside for the vehicles to resupply."

Craig overheard and nodded in full agreement. "Joey, we can't do anything to endanger the government. Bryce needs leadership if we are going to turn this thing around. Remember, we can't just let Ashwood take half the US. Some of the guys come from areas under Ashwood's control and sooner or later he will go after them."

Ricky, using a pair of crutches, made his way over to the group with Scott's help and yawned even as he spoke. "My mom would turn me over to Ashwood in a minute as soon as she finds out I shot someone. Guns are one step below the devil himself to Mom and she loves everything Ashwood stands for." He looked down and signed, "I sure hope you all were serious about letting me stay with you, cause even if we win, Mom isn't going to let me come home."

"Trust me, I'll be needing a home too, Ricky." Scott's facial expression told everyone around him he couldn't be happier about his situation, which only caused the three adults to hide snickers behind coughs or clearing of throats. Fortunately Ricky was distracted enough to not take note of the outbursts.

Justin eyed Ricky but the boy didn't look up to see the questioning stare, so Justin spoke up, "If my dad lives, you have a home in Nebraska, if not I bet I could have my Gramps take you in. You'd be real close to me and Gramps would never let anyone hurt you again."

Steven quickly echoed Justin's words, "It's only a trailer, but we can find a spot for you in Nevada."

"Son," Ranger Taggert spoke up, "I'm betting there are several hundred men and women down here who would take you in right here in Texas. You have a home no matter what happens, so don't go worrying yourself none." The Texas Ranger tried to move closer to Ricky only to find the boy edging away from him. He stopped trying instantly. Instead he simply added, "And once we have kicked the snot out of Ashwood, I can promise you there will be a whole heap of Texas Rangers heading out to pummel the living crap out of whoever hurt you."

"Along with some Texas National Guardsmen." Governor Hendrickson added with a growl. "Now you look exhausted." seeing the looks of the other boys he paused and took a deep breath, "Matter of fact, I want you all to take some down-time and get some shuteye. If there are things you all have to handle, then rotate, but this is not open for discussion. Ricky, you need some rest and I am willing to bet Steven and Joey would be happy to crash in the same room as you so you have some buddies with you.

"Justin and Craig, get this NBC thing-of-a-bobber running then you hit the sack as well."

Justin started to argue, but Steven shook his head, "He's right Justin. Your gate attendant friend is going to land and move by foot to get to the opening so there will be less chance of being spotted. This means he will not be there for hours. We all need to crash for a while, especially after yesterday and last night."

Governor Hendrickson started to ask, but a nudge from Taggert cut him off. Instead Taggert sent a stern look at all the kids around him and met their eyes one by one then spoke. "Boys, bed. Let us adults handle things. Trust me, if we need you, we'll come get you, but the place is secure. Once Keith, Glenn and Alexander finalize secure communications for us and show us how it all works I'll be escorting them to rooms as well."

"But..." Craig started to say but the man's looks stopped him cold.

"We have adults who can read, boys." Taggert spoke firmly. "We also have more than a few of us who know how to work on cars and crap. We can un-mothball what is needed while you all rest. Besides, if you keep doing all the work, you will remind all these political types just how little they are needed!"

"Hey!" Governor Hendrickson and his lieutenant governor spoke as one.

Taggert simply grinned and the boys around him all busted up in giggles. He waited for the merriment to fade before he dropped his voice an octave and took on a commanding tone. "Now get to bed. As it is, you all took the nicest rooms so use 'em!"

Seeing some hesitation, Governor Hendrickson gave Taggert and evil smirk, "Boys, just so you know, I was just telling Ranger Taggert here how you should each be given one of the vehicles down here for saving our butts. However, if you don't do as the good Ranger says I may just rescind such a decision."

All protests stopped instantly as the jaws of all them dropped. Steven was the first to start pulling the others toward the rooms back in the living section. "Come on guys, bedtime!"

As the boys scattered to go lay down, Hendrickson nodded in satisfaction. "And there is how I handled my kids; bribery, plain and simple."

Taggert couldn't help himself, "Wouldn't expect no less from a politician." This left him with two sore shoulders as the men on either side of him punched him pretty hard. He walked away from them with a shit-eating grin on his face and snickering.

LCDR Bickford made his way back to his ship, carrying a boy of no more than ten protectively in his arms, while the girl he had taken off the Buchanan was carried by Lopez. The climb up the rope ladder was difficult, but Bickford was too pissed off to really notice. As soon as he got to the rail he motioned for a sailor to grab the boy he was carrying so he could get himself over the safety rail.

Commander Kopland moved up as Bickford reached over to secure the girl so Lopez could get his legs over the rail. Before Bickford even put the girl down on the deck of his ship, Kopland noted the fact the kids were wearing nothing but men's shirts and had both handcuffs and ankle chains on, "What in the hell is this, XO?"

LCDR Bickford turned and shook his head while his lips stayed tightly pressed together, showing just how befuddled and angry he was. Instead he dug into his jacket and pulled the communication log of the Buchanan out and handed it over.

Realizing a quick answer was not going to be forthcoming from his XO, he looked over at Petty Officer Lopez, then down at the girl. He started to say something only to see Seaman Daniels come up with yet another boy. Not knowing what else to do, Commander Kopland moved forward and secured the boy with one hand while assisting Daniels over the rail with his other. Feeling the child shaking in his grasp, he turned to Seaman Warner, "Forget the fire hose, get me a corpsman up here and grab some blankets for these kids!"

Even as the youngest crew member aboard the Read rushed below, Commander Kopland eyed Gutierrez directing a teenaged seaman up over the ladder at gunpoint. Kopland didn't hesitate to secure the young enlisted man. He yanked the still badly shook up and partially deaf seaman onto the deck of the Read and all but tossed him down.

Seeing the ship's captain manhandle the seaman, a pair of Marines moved up with rifles pointed at the young man's face.

Seeing this and already horrified over everything that he had been through in the last hour, the seaman put his hand up over his face and trembled in total terror.

Kopland waited until Gutierrez made it fully aboard before he turned his attention to the young man laying on his deck with a trickle of blood still leaking out of one ear. "Seaman, who are you and why are there shackled, nearly nude children coming off your ship?"

Seaman Gutierrez spoke up. He was not used to talking directly to the ship's commanding officer, but he was a family man and his anger pushed aside his normal fear. "Sir, he was in the comm room when we hit the hatch with C4. He can't hear real well. The only thing I really got out of him is they came on the Coast Guard chopper with some of the others, but these three were left behind because both the commander and XO took the spots they came in."

Commander Kopland looked totally shocked, "Are you seriously telling me Vortalis abandoned his own ship and left his men holding the bag?"

This seemed to get through to the young seaman lying on his back on the deck of the Read with a pair of assault rifles pointed at his face. The fact Commander Kopland shouted the words at pretty much the top of his lungs, made hearing most of what was shouted possible to the young man. Hoping beyond all hope not to get shot he spoke with a trembling voice, "Almost all the senior officers left, sir! The two helicopters had seven of nine known surviving officers..."

Kopland looked down with an all but stunned expression. No words seemed to match what he was feeling. The idea of a ship's commanding officer fleeing his ship while it was in mortal danger and packed with men and women he was responsible for... it was... traitorous... sickening... just so wrong on so many levels his mind could not totally wrap around the idea enough to firmly believe it.

Fortunately one of the ships corpsmen came over with Seaman Warner and looked over at the pair of senior officers, "Sirs, I don't know what's going on or why there are kids standing here in military brig chains, but I have a hell of a lot of wounded coming over from the Buchanan with serious injuries..."

LCDR Bickford eyed the Petty Officer First Class and spoke with something akin to venom dripping from his tone of voice, "Takahashi, these three kids are your only priority until they are unchained, fully checked over, patched up, fed and I don't give a rat's ass how, but clothed. You want to put one of lower ranking corpsmen on it so you can handle the serious injuries, fine, but until you have these three under top notch care, no one touches anyone from the Buchanan!"

Seaman Warner took an involuntary step back and almost fell overboard from the vitriolic tone coming out of a man he had grown to respect a great deal. Holding up his hand like a school boy even as he managed to grab the edge of the rail with the other so he didn't fall overboard, he managed to clear his throat enough to get the two senior most officers of his ship's attention.

Kopland spun and started to snap at the young man, but stopped himself as he noticed the look of concern on Warner's face, "Speak Seaman!"

Warner gulped but nodded in the direction of the kids, "Sir, I can take care of them."

This caused Kopland's eyebrow to shoot up, "Why would you want to, Seaman?"

"Sir, my sister has cerebral palsy and I had to take care of her. If I can do that, I can take care of these three and they look just as scared as Lisa did when she started to have a seizure. Let me get them taken care of and talk them down. I can do it sir!"

Commander Kopland saw his XO nod, so he turned to fully face the young seaman, "Warner, they are your responsibility. Take good care of them, but if you need a hand don't be afraid to ask. All three get VIP treatment, my orders, and your sole duty until either Me or the XO says otherwise is to them, understood?"

"Totally understood, sir!"

"Good, but get a corpsman to give them a once over and take care of any injuries and you can use the Officers Mess to give you a place away from this madness to calm them down in."

He waited until Warner, with the help of Daniels, led the kids into the superstructure before returning his attention back to the young man on the deck. He shouted so his voice could be heard through the partially busted eardrum of the seaman's right ear. "You said there were two officers left you know of, who are they and where was the last place you know where they were?" Even as he shouted down at the man, he motioned for the two Marines to back off.

Seeing the two assault rifles move back away from his face helped a great deal but he still kept his hand open and up defensively so there was no question he was not a threat. "Ensign Cornelius was down in the engine room trying to get us some power and Lieutenant JG Gross just left the comm room before the hatch blew up. He went below to find a handheld radio since we couldn't get any signal out, but we could hear you, sir!"

"What were you trying to tell us?"

"To stay back sir..."

"Why?" Commander Kopland demanded to know.

"Sir, the front hold has six poison gas missiles and the fire is working its way up to the front magazines..."

Color drained out of LCDR Bickford's face. He ran aft shouting for all hose crews to turn all efforts forward of the Buchanan's superstructures.

At the same time Commander Kopland shouted up to Lieutenant Reeves, "Get on the loudspeakers and tell the Buchanan to abandon ship and swim toward us now or we leave them!"

Exhaustion finally overwhelmed Officer Rail a few hours after sunset. Even with the sounds of distant and not so distant gunfire, he glanced over to a couple of the former juvenile inmates with an uneasy shake of his head. With a nervous sigh, he put his back to an inner wall and slid down to a sitting position with the help of the procured rifle. He said nothing. He didn't need to.

Eldon nodded even as Tyrone pulled the top off a can of raviolis, stuck in a plastic spoon, handed them down to the overly fatigued cop and spoke, "You ain't eat shit since we hooked up with ya, man. Take a bite and take a few hours a down-time. Don't look like nothin' coming this way. 'Specially with all them dead we left out there."

Eldon grinned, "Yeah, and we got the Hummer with the machinegun and shit too. None a those punks out there gunna mess with us!"

Cole stared at the two boys and said nothing for a few seconds. Instead he took a bite of the cold raviolis and chewed slowly. He was far hungrier than he realized. He found himself savoring the food, any food. Before he realized it, the can was empty and the boys were still looking at him. He gave them a slight smile as Eldon handed him a warm soda. "Guys, you all did great today. We have you all to thank and mostly because of you and your Bible group buddies, we also have thirty-nine civilians, but don't go getting cocky.

"We have a Hummer." Cole Rail paused and rolled his eyes as he saw Eldon's face break into a wide grin of satisfaction. "And just because I get the feeling you like it, I'll call you absolutely insane for taking it the way you did."

Tyrone busted up laughing as Eldon pumped his fist hard at his side a couple of time and smiled even wider.

Cole ran his hand down his face and gave a snort, something akin to a burst of laughter himself, but he looked back up and kept a serious look, "So the Hummer is pulled into the loading bay of this building and it had some serious weapons, but where there is one, there has to be others and they will have supply lines. We don't.

"Also, while a dozen or so bodies out there will keep away most, it very well may bring in others in those drab green fatigues with heavy weapons to scout the area. Unless they come after us, we need to keep a low profile. Understood?"

Tyrone nodded, "Yeah, we don't want them showin' up with no rockets or bazookas or shit."

"Exactly..." Cole sighed in some relief over the fact at least one of the boys understood. The fact it was one of the oldest and the others either respected him, feared him, or both was also good. This meant they would most likely do what he said when left without supervision. Still, for better or worse, Ken was the real leader of the group of Bible converted misfit ruffians. This was a major concern for Cole, regardless of what Ken said. After all, Cole had been the arresting officer and had testified at the sentencing hearing. He had recommended to the judge not to give Ken probation. It had been Cole's words and description of the Christmas Eve events, which had caused Ken to get three years in juvenile detention instead of probation and Ken knew it.

Cole found it impossible to believe the boy held no hard feelings over this, but like it or not, they were stuck with each other. The fact Ken's group had saved Cole's life and had done everything in their power to use the unsavory skills they developed both in and out of lock-up was a major plus. Saving all the civilians in the building with them was even more comforting, but he couldn't totally let his guard down.

Tyrone, a hardened street kid of sixteen years, seemed to notice the problem, "Look, cop, we ain't them kids no more. Kenny's Granma turned us with the help of the book, man. We ain't gunna turn on ya or none of these wussy ass rich folk. For us ta run into ya like we done, and Kenny gettin' locked up by you so Grandma Baker could show us God can't be no chance, man. It be Him! He be doin' this. Now it be free will, just like Grandma Baker show us. We's got to put up 'er shut up, man. God done put the edges of the puzzle together, but it be us that gots to make the pieces to fillin' the picture in the middle, man. Ya know?"

Cole let out a long breath, "And what picture are you making Tyrone?"

"One without the bars, man. One without guys raping other guys in the showers 'er beating the crap out of some punk just for fun. We's gunna try to make a puzzle where the middle is all a us black ass niggers and you white ass crackers breakin' bread and say words to Him in thanks for lettin' us all be where we could help each other, man."

Off to the side Eldon nodded but kept a slightly less altruistic attitude, "And if the Man Upstairs want to let me jack a few more Hummer's before this is over, all the better!"

Tyrone busted up laughing, backed up and slapped Eldon on the back hard, "Fuckin' crazy ass cracker. Keep the cop company so he can crash for a while. I'll set up some kind a watch and maybe Nolan and Jamaal can head out and jack us some more food from someplace without stealing from no one."

"Unless they can hit some of them army looking goons," Eldon chimed in.

"I don't want any of you boys getting hurt, so tell them not to go after anything dangerous!" Cole ordered.

Tyrone grunted, "I'll tell 'em, cop, but yer taking the fun out of it for 'em!"

Joey woke to the sounds of a yelp in the bed across from his. With a yawn, he sat up and looked over only to see Ricky struggling to get clothing over his cast. He moved over and knelt next to Ricky's bed as the boy fought to pull on some clothing found in supply stores. There was no way the pants were going to fit over the air cast, but Ricky refused to stop trying. "Dude, you're hurting yourself for nothing!"

"Nothing? I don't have any pants on and everyone can see me!"

Steven rolled out of his own bed and moved over and knelt as well, "Ricky, look around. First off we are the only ones in this room. You are one of us and there is no way we are going to make fun of you. Besides, no one else down here sees a kid without pants on. They see a kid who saved their lives. They aren't going to care in the slightest and they all want to keep you as safe as possible!"

Seeing the boy was not about to stop trying regardless of the pain it was causing him, Steven put a hand on Ricky's shoulder. "OK, hold on for a couple of minutes. Maybe we can get a couple of the paramedics to help take the cast off and keep your leg steady so we can help you slide into some pants, then cut the seam high enough to let the cast fit back under it. I can then sew a good stitch so the pants won't continue to tear upwards."

"Then people will see me even more than they already are!" Ricky protested.

Steven locked eyes with Ricky and spoke a little more forcefully, "Those of us who will be helping you already have and don't care. Now knock it off. I'm not going to let you hurt yourself and, like it or not, I am tougher than you are!"

Even as Joey frowned at the tone, Ricky gulped and his face took on the look of someone who had just been slapped. With a bit of a quivering voice, Ricky looked down, "OK... sure..."

Steven shot Joey a hard look cutting off any argument before one could be started, "Go get us a couple of the paramedics and a full set of clothing for Ricky. Then, if Craig is back with Glenn, Justin and those guys who are supposed to unlock the doors so we can get out, have him do an override of one of the showers since he is a rank ten so we can fill up a tub with warm water so Ricky can be completely clean before he gets dressed. If Craig isn't back yet, tell Governor Hendrickson he needs to do an override for us."

Even as Joey nodded in understanding and left, Ricky looked up at Steven with near horror in his eyes, "You are going to give me a bath?"

Steven once again stared down Ricky, "Yeah, I am and someone else needs to be there to hold your leg still while I do so. There isn't a single one of us who wouldn't be willing, so give me a name or I will pick."


Steven shook his head, "No, Ricky, you need to get clean. You are the only one who hasn't had a shower out of the nine of us. I get it, but if we are going to get you dressed, then it needs to happen. Besides, you are going to be in a cast for weeks and will probably need help so you need to figure out who is going to help you, just like Glenn has had to accept the fact he needs help on occasion."

Once again Ricky shrank under the forcefulness of Steven's words. His upper lip trembled as he fought hard not to cry. With resignation and fear etched on his face he simply nodded.

Steven slid closer and his voice softened, "Ricky, I saw the marks on your back and side and know someone beat the hell out of you. I also heard enough to know your baseball buddy's dad was anything but nice to you, but you aren't around him. You are around me, around us. If you haven't noticed, we aren't about to let anyone hurt you. Then, once all of this is over, all of us will go after everyone who ever laid a hand on you and take them out one at a time. By the time we are done, those who aren't dead will wish to hell they were."

Ricky fought off a sob, "You don't get it..."

"No, you're right, Ricky, I don't. I have never had anyone beat the hell out of me, let alone some adult. I have never had anyone hit me with a belt so hard it left the buckle impression on me like I saw on the back of your legs either. Hell, I don't think other than a spoon over my knuckles a few times, or a swat with a branch across the back of my legs a single time when I was really being a jackass, I have ever had anything other than a hand used on me when I was spanked. And, as much as I hate to admit it, I firmly deserved the time Dad smacked the back of my legs with the stick."

Seeing Ricky look up with tear-filled, but still very interested eyes, Steven forced a grin, "Yeah... I kind of... no, let's be honest. I made a bomb out of like a whole pile of fireworks and blew up our grill..."

Ricky swallowed hard and forced himself to speak. When he did his throat was still tight, so the words came out with a little bit of a high-pitched squeak. "You blew up your grill?"

"Yeah." This time Steven didn't have to force a smile, "We never did find the lid."

This got a small giggle out of Ricky, "What about the rest of it?"

A silly smirk spread over Steven's face, "Certainly not enough left to grill the Fourth of July burgers on. I got a branch over the back of my legs, got told no dinner and no fireworks, but did get to see something really go boom. Looking back, I think it was worth the tradeoff."

"My mom would have freaked out!"

"My mom was not the angry one. She simply rolled her eyes and pointed for me to go to my little corner of the trailer. She snuck me a burger a few hours later, she cooked on the neighbor's grill, but she still made sure I spent the rest of the day and the next five in trailer house arrest. By then, Dad found a way to use the scene in one of his horror books, so he simply promised to disown me if I even ever so much as thought about doing something like it again in his presence." Steven's smile grew even wider, "And yeah, he emphasized the 'IN MY PRESENCE' part big time. He then made me use money I made from fixing stuff to buy a new grill and we have never talked about it again."

Ricky shook his head, "I wish I had a dad like yours..."

Steven grinned, "Once all this is over you can come live with me while we track down whoever hurt you. I bet my mom and dad would love to get to know you and I know my dad would help eradicate whoever hurt you."

"Not if he finds out what I had to do..."

"If you were forced to do bad things, it will only make him madder and my mom love you more." Steven assured Ricky as he put his arm around Ricky. "Now let's get you up and to the tub so you can get clean."

Glenn glanced over at Craig as the firefighter, who stayed on the elevator over and over, drove the NBC equipped Stryker down the long escape passage. "Mr. Walker, how'd you learn how to drive one of these?"

The man's voice took on a heavy accent as he glanced back with a smirk, "Australian Army, Mate." The man snickered as he dropped the heavy accent. "Seriously, I was in the Australian Army as an ASLAV-25 driver. I did a stint with the US Marines in Camp Pendleton as part of a joint deployment exercise. I even volunteered to go into live combat with them against Mexican forces. My tour of duty came up while I was in Mexico, and I tried to re-up and stay, but the military command didn't want us to continue to pound Mexico like Bryce wanted. Australian military issued a recall. I applied for and got special permission to muster out and join the US military, which allowed me to apply for citizenship after serving for four years. So I did. Went from Australian Army to US Marine basically overnight.

"Once the war was over I decided to cross train as a 7051, the MOS number of an aircraft rescue firefighter. I spent a couple more years in, but decided to go civilian. So here I am, and since driving a Stryker is basically the same as the ASLAV-25 or LAV25 like I did in the military, I volunteered to take you boys up the tunnel. Besides, I can shoot if needed." He patted the M9A1 9mm pistol and nodded down to the M4 assault rifle leaning next to him.

"Thanks," Glenn stated with complete gratitude. "I'm real glad you are here with us. Do you have any family above us though?"

"Not a family, but I do have a girlfriend. She works at Westlake Medical as a nurse, so I am hoping she was far enough away to not get hit by the clouds of gas. If she did make it, though, I can't even begin to imagine the horror she is now facing. I bet every hospital outside of the attack area in the Austin area is getting hammered by now."

"You think there are survivors?" Justin asked with a sense of hope.

Craig answered, "Probably a lot, but who knows how many are going to need help. Some will have minor exposure, and will be having a hard time breathing, others will have muscle spasms, and yet others will be dying but will be taken to hospitals by others hoping to save them. Once my dad talked about some training he did. It was an exercise dealing with getting wounded off a sinking ship and caring for them. He didn't really want to talk to me about it, but I could tell it really bothered him and wouldn't let it go, so he told me how they had to decide who to treat and not since there was more wounded than they had medical people and supplies for. As a senior officer, he had to read the tags describing the fake injuries and with one of the junior medics, decide who could wait, who could be saved and who was not worth trying to save. It was the only time I really saw him bothered by anything he had to do, and it really hit him hard. He ended up taking some college courses and got certified as a paramedic on his own because of it so, if the time ever came he would be able to do something more than decide who would die and who wouldn't.

"From what Dad told me, I'd bet Mr. Walker is right. Hospitals have got to be getting slammed and some of those being brought in will get pushed off to the side and left for dead. Remember some of the dead or dying are going to be doctors and other hospital staff. This means remaining doctors and nurses have to decide who they can help and who they can't, or who would take up too much resources of supplies and time to be worth saving, even if they normally would be able to."

Glenn shivered, "They would really let someone die when they could save them?"

Mr. Walker nodded sadly, "Unfortunately, Craig is correct. It comes down to what is better for the greatest number. If saving one really bad case, means letting several die who need less treatment, the choice has to be made. Me, I am glad I am not one of those being forced to make such decisions."

"Me too!" Justin whispered. "I'd never be able to do it. I'd want to save everyone..."

"And there is the problem, young man. You can't save everyone. When things get real bad, you have to do the greatest good possible. Just over a year ago, one of the other crews was faced with just such a choice at a fire where three people were trapped in one room and one boy was in another. The roof was coming down and they could only get to one room. Three of them managed to get three, while the rest of the crew poured on the water giving them just enough time to get them all out, even as the building came down, but I can tell you all of them are still haunted with ever having to do what they did. Two of them actually quit, rather than have to face such a thing again."

Glenn looked physically ill as Mr. Walker talked, "Um, how about we talk about something... um... anything else?"

Justin gulped and nodded it total agreement, "Good idea!"

Just to take the conversation away from its current topic, Glenn decided to go a totally different direction with his thoughts. "I can't believe they buried all this equipment."

"Oh, I can," Mr. Walker responded. "Think about it Glenn, this place was built for an end of the world scenario. They figured they would need a year or more of food, supplies, equipment, and whatever else before coming out to see what was left."

"But they shut it down." Justin argued. "They basically put millions of millions of dollars worth of stuff in here and buried it!"

Mr. Walker couldn't help but smile. It was nice to see these kids not fully grasp something. "Justin, I think you need to look at the bigger picture."

The three boys exchanged glances and shrugs. Finally Justin spoke up again, "Sorry, I'm being really dumb right now. I have no idea what you are talking about."

"Same here." Glenn admitted, while Craig kind of threw up his hands as if he was annoyed with himself for not understanding either.

Mr. Walker snickered softly. "Boys don't be so hard on yourselves, Geesh! You all prevented an assassination and rescued the entire Government of Texas!"

"Yeah, and right now we are either being very stupid or something, Mr. Walker," Craig grumbled. "I'm with Justin and Glenn. I have no clue why someone would leave all this stuff down here!"

"First off, how about you all call me by my first name, Lachlan."

"Ooookay..." Glenn spoke softly, "Um, no offense sir, but Lachlan? What kind of name is that?"

"Aussie, pretty much all Aussie." Lachlan once again smiled as he realized all three boys' faces showed they were mystified by the name and were eager to learn. "I actually went to school with two other boys with the same name and knew a couple of others. Haven't heard it once since I came here, though. I guess it just never made it here from across the pond."

This got a snicker out of Justin, "Wow, calling an ocean a pond. Never heard anyone call the Pacific Ocean a pond before!"

"Dad calls oceans ponds." Craig smiled as he thought of his father. "I had the same reaction of the first time I realized he was talking about the Atlantic."

Glenn chuckled, "Mom has flown over to England a few times and says she hates the long flight over the pond, so it isn't too uncommon. So, Lachlan..." Seeing the man nod, Glenn took a deep breath, "Kind of a cool name, but if you ever meet my parents make sure you tell them you told me to call you by your first name, OK?"

"Be more than happy to, mate."

"Good, because I can almost see the glare Dad would be giving me as I talk to an adult and use a first name."

"Sounds like you got some mighty fine parents."

"Hope I still do."

"We'll find a way to get them out, Glenn." Justin assured the boy.

"Don't promise something you can't guarantee," Glenn fired back, clearly realizing the chances of seeing his parents and siblings again was dimming by the minute. Glenn closed his eyes to fight back some tears and spoke, "So, Mr. Walker... Um Lachlan, what are we missing with all this equipment being locked up and forgotten?"

Lachlan took a deep breath, "First off, Glenn, don't write your parents off. They raised a genius so they must be pretty high on the brains department, too. Second, I want you all to really think about what would have happened had President Bryce pulled everything out of here just before he left office."

Seeing blank look from the youngster next to him, Lachlan reached over and ruffled Justin's hair as he spoke, "This may be more about age and understanding politics than being smart. So let me just toss it out there for you all to think about. First, had he emptied this place, it would have announced to the whole world the US had more military resources than was on the books. By burying it, he allowed the next President to have full deniability over the existence of such places, while also preserving them should the need ever come up to have to activate them. All I can say is, I hope to hell there are a couple dozen more out there just like this, where Bryce can rally forces around, so we can turn this fight around. Since, at the moment, it sure seems like we are getting our backsides firmly kicked at the moment."

Craig nodded in full agreement. "We best find some other things to go right real soon before Ashwipe steamrolls us. He already has half the country, and the part he is trying to take looks like a boxer taking on an MMA fighter!"

"Yeah," Lachlan nodded solemnly, "we best at least take the gloves off and hit with a few bare knuckle shots to slow Ashwood down or we are going to be looking out from behind the wrong side of a set of bars with Ashwood's people as guards."

Glenn tried to stay positive, "We have a pretty straight line down the center of the country, though. His side will have to break through to take more, right?"

Craig eyed Glenn for a second before letting out a sigh, "We can hope, Glenn, but the problem is the line on our side is pretty thin. Think about it, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, North Dakota..." Craig let out a long breath as he realized what he was trying to say was not really getting through. "Glenn, while you are right about having all those states on our side, they are all people poor. The states facing them have way more people and Ashwipe has had this planned. Those states will have to hold with what they have until the rest of the states to the west can send reinforcements. At least Ashwipe made one big mistake!"

"What?" Glenn and Lachlan spoke at almost the same moment while Justin glanced into the back, "He did?"

"Yeah," Craig nodded with a bit of a smirk. "He could have all but taken out the upper states like Nebraska, Kansas, North and South Dakota if he had sent his forces west, but he dropped the bridges to protect what he already had control over. We are a mess on this side of the Mississippi river basin. He could have crushed us before we got organized, but didn't. It kind of reminds me of the Germans letting the British Army escape Dunkirk."

Seeing two blank looks, Lachlan grinned, "Junior Marines taught you well, and you very well might be correct. The similarities are astonishing! I hope you are right!"

"Me too," Craig snorted. "I did a huge study of Dunkirk when one of our leaders gave us a project to give a report on the biggest military flops we could find. The one who did the best got a promotion. I did mine on Dunkirk and got a stripe."

"Well done." Lachlan praised the boy before speaking up, "During World War II, the Germans decided to consolidate forces when they had the British Army beaten. The delay allowed hundreds of thousands to pull out of Dunkirk and make it to England. If the Germans had crushed the forces right there, England may not have been able to recover and hold off Germany until the US jumped in.

"The fact Ashwood decided to consolidate his hold rather than really push his advantage may very well turn out to be his Dunkirk! Let's hope he makes a few more key errors."

Justin found it hard to sit still, he couldn't help but think he was putting everyone in a great deal of danger by putting so much trust in a man he had only met for a few minutes. To take his mind off of this, even momentarily, he joined in the conversation. "I hope you and Craig are right, but I am still confused about this bunker and all the stuff in it. Are you saying President Bryce kept this hidden but didn't tell President Ashwood? I'm sorry, I still don't get it."

Lachlan cocked his head to the side, "My guess is, he saw something he didn't like or heard something which gave him pause. He was president for a long time, too long to not notice something odd or off. So he decommissioned them, but kept this bunker and probably others available just in case. Besides, look beyond the US. I bet this stuff never showed up as being bought. It was buried in fake overrun costs of other projects, or in some massive spending bill where money was shunted off the books to dig out a multibillion dollar bunker and stock it. Somewhere there is a ledger showing several billion dollars was spent somewhere else. If he pulled everything out, then someone might notice and wonder what else was being hidden. He didn't want to give people a reason to go digging, so locking up the place and pretending it didn't exist in the first place was easier and second better for international relations and domestic politics as well."

Justin ran his hand down his face, "Sorry, I still don't get it. I bet Steven and Scott would, though. I guess it really doesn't matter since it is a good thing it is here now. Do you really think there is going to be a full-scale war? Can't the country just split into two or something?"

The firefighter glanced over with some surprise, but just as quickly realized the lad next to him was engaged in a bit of magical thinking where things could turn out good and no more blood would need to be spilled. He purposefully came up with a question to get all three of the kids with him to see the truth. "Do you actually think having the country split into two is really going to fly with anyone?"

Glenn responded with a bit of anger as the words sank in, "Not unless Ashwipe is willing to let those on his side freely come over to our side with everything they own and the same for people on our side who would prefer to live under the jerk. My whole family is on the wrong side, Justin. I am sure Ashwipe is going to go after them the second he figures out who I am, what I did as part of being here in Austin, and all the other junk we've done to him."

"Lachlan and Glenn are right, Justin. The war is already happening." Craig stated with a near growl. "Now we have to figure out a way to win!"

Seeing Glenn nodding in full agreement, Justin reluctantly agreed, "I guess we don't have much choice, do we?"

Craig answered with his voice dripping resentment, "Not as long as Ashwipe is trying to destroy our country and has control over people who do not want to be under his fangs." He reached over patted Glenn on the back. "This can't be over until we have your family safe."

"The same for the others... not just in our group but all those who don't want what is happening. How many moms, dads, sisters, and brothers are dying even as we are safe underground?" Glenn stated with clear concern and tears threatening to tumble out of the corners of his eyes.

Todd glanced over at Noah as they heard the not so distant sounds of gunfire echo over the forest. "Oh, crap, automatic fire! We need to get out of here!"

Noah nodded in full agreement, but knelt and unclipped the web gear holding the dead soldier's equipment he was closest to. "Yeah, but we need all of this stuff!"

"But it's full of blood!" Hazel next to shouted as she looked at a body hanging half out of the passenger side door of the truck they had been forced into the back of.

"It's all we've got, so bloody or not, we don't have much choice!" Debbie responded, even as she grabbed the canteen off the body closest to her. Still, she grimaced as she turned her head away from the dead eyes staring back at her.

Doug moved over to Hazel and handed her what he had taken off of one of the dead men in the back of the truck. "Here, take this. I'll get this one's stuff."

Hazel nodded, but even as she grabbed the rifle she noticed some blood on the butt. She turned and puked. She spit a couple of times before shuddering as she adjusted the vest with a bullet hole in it and blood on the collar, "Oh, nasty!"

Harlan moved up to where the driver was slumped over the steering wheel, with blood still dripping down his chin from a bullet hole in his cheek. Seeing the man's gear was next to him and somehow managed to survive untouched in the hail of gunfire, he pulled it all out and moved over to Kent, "Here, this is in great shape and you will need it. Now get your shoes on and put this on."

Kent looked at the gear while shaking his head and crying.

"Damn-it, knock it off and get this shit on!" Harlan shouted with a great deal of anger, even as more gunfire came from the direction of the airfield.

Noah moved up to Harlan, "Dude, chill! He is counting on us to take care of him and it isn't his fault the guy beat on you!"

Harlan dropped everything but the rifle at Kent's feet, handed over the assault rifle to Noah and backed up a couple of steps before holding up his hands, "Sorry..."

"Nothing to be sorry about." Todd responded. "We are all freaked out. Now go grab some stuff for yourself while Noah helps Kent. We need to move!"

Harlan moved his hand to wipe a new trickle of blood coming out of his nose only to tremble in pain. It hurt to even lightly touch his nose. Even as he forced himself to move up to the next dead man and strip off the guy's bloody gear he wondered if his nose was broken. He bet it was.

Harlan blinked some tears out of his eyes as he pulled off the guy's heavy coat, noting it had a couple of holes in it, but the body armor under it prevented the bullets from going all the way in. It had taken a head shot to kill the man. Even though the coat was way too big for him and had a trio of bullet holes in it, he put it on. Even as he did so, he looked up, "Guys grab their coats, we are going to need warm stuff if we are going to stay in the woods at night."

Noah gave Harlan a thumb up sign even as he draped the military vest over a still crying Kent, then pulled the dead man's bootlaces off to tie the extremely baggy vest off around Kent's waist so it didn't slip too much. He looked at the boy, "Kent, come on, man, I know you are scared. We all are. But we need you to stick with us. Now I'm going to put this rifle over your back. Don't touch it until we have a chance to show you how to use it."

Kent stood there, only half listening. He didn't fight Noah, but he didn't really help him either. He did, however, manage to lift one foot at a time, while using his left hand to grab onto the truck so Noah could put on his Nikes.

Doug's voice came from inside the back of the truck, "Hey, need a hand here!"

"Stay here," Noah commanded. "I'll be right back."

Noah hopped up into the back of the truck and helped Doug grab the stuff off two the dead guys in the back and helped pull over the six packs the man who took all the supplies out of the truck had left in the back. They were all pretty heavy, but it was all they had so the two quickly decided they had to find a way to take as much as they possibly could then sort through it all once they were well away from the area.

Todd moved up and motioned for Noah to help him get one of the packs on his back. Todd cringed and let out a breath as the weight of the pack dropped onto his shoulders. "There is no way I could carry all this into a fight!"

Noah, with Debbie's help, put on one of the other packs and nodded in agreement. "And just think, we aren't taking the armored vests some of these guys have!"

Noah turned and helped Debbie into another pack, then moved back to Kent, "Look these things are real heavy, but do you think you can carry one? There are eight of them and only six of us, seven including you."

Kent couldn't help but look at the guy Harlan had let fall out of the passenger side. It took Noah grabbing his shoulders and physically turning him before he could tear his eyes off the gruesome sight. "Huh?"

"Kent, we need to go, but we have to carry as much as we can. Do you think you can carry one of these packs? The rest of us already have one and there are still two left."

Kent swallowed hard and shook his head to clear it. Seeing the shaking of his head was taken as a 'no', Kent cleared his throat as Noah turned away from him, making a slashing motion to show the others he didn't think Kent could carry a pack, "No, I can... Um... I can carry one. I go backpacking with my uncle. I can carry one for a while."

Doug checked the back of the truck one last time, securing an extra vest with a 9mm Beretta and a trio of ammo pouches before hopping down. He then helped Hazel into a pack before turning so she could do the same thing for him. Hearing Kent talk about backpacking he glanced over, "So you know how to camp and stuff?"

Kent winced as Noah pulled off the assault rifle from over his neck and lowered one of the remaining two packs over his shoulders but forced himself to talk, "Uh huh. Uncle Al and a few of his friends let me go backpacking with them a couple of times over the summer. Since I did OK, we did one for five days up in Colorado just before school started. We even hiked up Uncompahgre Peak, one of the 14000 foot mountains. I was dead at the end, but I made it without any of them having to carry my pack at all, but they did carry water for me on the last day."

This caused both Todd and Hazel to glance over at Kent while Doug whistled, "So you backpacked and hiked up a fourteener?"

"Yeah, it was really awesome..." He paused as Noah handed him the rifle back. "I've never shot..."

"We'll teach you to shoot, you can teach us to backpack." Todd stated seriously. "We have done hikes and have camped lots, but never gone real backpacking. You have, so you will be able to teach us stuff.

Noah pointed to the final backpack sitting at the back of the truck. "We should try to take it..."

Todd moved over and hefted it over his right shoulder with a sharp wince, "We'll have to take turns carrying it; now let's get out of here, the shooting stopped and we don't know which side won. I sure don't want to be here if the guys who took Noah's dad and Mr. Calderwood did!"

Noah nodded in total agreement, "Let's head into the woods away from the airfield."

Debbie quickly moved into the rather thick woods, "This pack has a compass. I'll take the lead and take us west until we are well away from here."

Todd glanced around and realized they were pretty much surrounded by heavy forest and undergrowth. Not knowing where they were, but realizing they needed to stay as hidden as possible, he let out a long breath. "Yeah, go for it." Todd then looked back at Harlan, "How you doing?"

"My nose is really screwed up and I can only breathe through my mouth and this pack hurts where it is over the places he hit my back, but I'll live. Just get us away from here. One thing I am real sure of is, I don't want to know what he was planning on doing with me."

The group of kids moved slowly, but methodically to the west, but angled more north as they realized the heaviest growth was to the northwest and extremely thick plant life gave them the best cover. Unfortunately, this also meant slow going, treacherous footing and even as late in the year as it was, a few insect problems including ticks. They avoided a few buildings and took turns dashing across a single dirt road. Three times the group had to drop into the heavy growth of the Louisiana backcountry, as the sounds of nearby gunfire told them things were anything but safe. After nearly an hour and a half, the thick woods opened into more freshly cut trees in rows and little undergrowth. After some debate, they decided to stay hidden, so they turned straight north to stay in the thick woods.

This brought them up to a real highway. Even as they crouched and held their breath, a twelve vehicle military convoy moved down the road to the west. The kids could see two of the big trucks like they had been stuck in had a weird symbol, kind of looking like an incomplete outline of the White House, but with a capital 'A' over the dome painted on the side. Several of the others had the start of the marking on them but were not complete enough to identify as anything yet. Only one of the smaller vehicles had the full outline of the White House with the 'A' over the dome painted on it.

It was a good five minutes after the small convoy disappeared from view before Noah managed to speak, "So were those good guys or bad guys?"

Seeing nothing but blank looks from those around her, Debbie spoke up, "I, for one, don't want to wait until someone starts shooting at me before I figure out who is on our side and who isn't. Maybe we should find a place well away from any roads, set up a camp and let things calm down before we try to do anything."

Todd shook his head and patted Noah on the shoulder, knowing what was about to erupt out of the slightly younger boy, "Deb, we can't wait too long. The longer we wait the less of a chance we have of figuring out where they took Mr. Hatchett and Mr. Calderwood and do something to rescue them. But, Noah, Debbie is also correct, we need to find a spot, hunker down, see what food we have, if any, and make a plan before we do anything."

Although not happy, Noah begrudgingly nodded agreement. One thing his dad was big on in paintball was to have a plan right from the start. Since they were now playing with real guns and live bullets, this would need to be something even more thought out than sending in Doug as a decoy to get shot at like they were used to doing. Play time was over and they would have to think up something new, getting shot for fun and as a distraction was no longer an option. "Yeah, Todd, we need to really think this out. The woods across the road look really thick, let's get deep into them and make some kind of camp."

Thirty minutes later, and hearing only a few gunshots in the distance, Todd glanced over to Noah, "I need a break. I can't carry this second pack another foot!"

Noah nodded, "Let's just make camp here..."

Kent moved up nervously, "Let me try to carry the extra pack for a while. We need to find a place with flowing water before we stop and make a camp. Uncle Al never let us stop for any long span without being close to flowing water..."

Noah moved over to Todd, "I say we listen to Kent. He has done real backpacking before." He then turned and shot Kent a slight grin, "Let me give the pack a go and see if we can find a place with a stream or something. I am sure you can take it for a while, but we are bigger and stronger than you are."

Kent looked relieved as he took a knee for a short breather. "I just don't want to leave anything until we see what we have. I sure wish I had hiking boots though."

"Me too!" Hazel chimed in. "But at least those guys got us back the shoes we had or there would be no way we could be doing this..." A series of gunshots to the east caused her to stop before she finished what she wanted to say.

Todd quickly stood and moved to help those who had gone to a knee or had sat down, "Way too close! Let's get away from here and find some water!"

They stuck to the denser trees as they moved out again. A few times they detoured slightly west to avoid open areas and in one case what appeared to be a huge milk farm or something. The smell of animal waste was strong, so they decided to push on until they couldn't smell it anymore. It was well after dark before the small group came to a stream running through a rather steep gully.

Doug dropped his pack and made his way down to the water. He dipped his hand in and splashed some water on his face. "Cool and running." He flipped on a flashlight he had found in the gear he had taken, "Looks clean too."

Todd glanced back at Kent, clearly surprised the smaller boy had made it all this way without any help and carrying everything he had on him. Still the boy looked exhausted. Glancing around, he realized so did everyone else, "Well, we haven't heard any real close gunshots in a while and we have water. Plus we all need a long break."

Kent nodded, took and knee and jiggled the pack off his back, "Just make sure to boil water or see if there are any water purification pills to put in the water before you drink any."

"I think it can wait till morning." Harlan groaned as he dropped his pack and all but fell next to it. The beating and his nose were hurting worse than anything he had felt in his entire life, and it took everything he had not to cry and he lowered his head on the top of the pack.

Off to the side Hazel dropped the pack she had been carrying and all but fell to the ground. "I sure hope there is some food in some of these!"

Noah rubbed his hands down his face, "I'm wiped out and if we all go using flashlights, even as deep into the forest as we seem to be, someone might see us. Let's wait till sun-up, spread everything out, see what we have and make a real plan."

Reluctantly, the others agreed. All were really glad they had eaten on the plane, but they were all hungry. However, one by one, they drifted off into an uneasy sleep. There wasn't a single one of the seven who didn't wake at least once with sweat dripping off of them, even though the nighttime temperatures dropped into the mid-forties. The nightmares were just that bad.

Kyle would like your comments and most especially your criticisms to his stories: Kyle Aarons

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